REFERENDUM: Adding value to our community and paying for infrastructure

 

BY PETER EWART

Special to the Daily News

The results of the municipal referendum in Prince George are in and show a good, solid majority of residents (almost 63 per cent) voted to fund a new Four Seasons swimming pool, and an overwhelming majority (over 82 per cent) voted to fund a new Firehall #1.

Both projects will add significant value to our community.  The new publicly-owned and operated swimming pool will add value by creating a healthier population.  As a result, there is less pressure on medical and other services, injured or ill employees get back to work quicker through rehab and therapy, the older population stays healthier longer, and, very importantly, children and youth are taught swimming and proper water safety, and have a positive social and recreational alternative.

The new firehall will add important value by saving lives and property and providing a safe city and regional environment.

Both infrastructure projects will add to the economy of downtown, as well as the overall city and region, and will serve as an attractant for businesses and enterprises to set up operations, as well as for workers, professionals and others to move to the city.

For its part, the City of Prince George did a good job in providing timely and extensive information about the projects, and within the parameters of a consultative process, obtained public input and allowed for media scrutiny.

That being said, this referendum process, once again, brings to the fore a central problem facing municipalities across the province.  Local levels of government are restricted by provincial and federal law to a narrow band of funding mechanisms to pay for new infrastructure such as pools and firehalls, e.g. mainly property taxes.  Both the federal and provincial governments have a much wider range of mechanisms to raise funds that are denied the municipal level of government.  Indeed, the relationship between municipalities and the upper levels of government resembles a colonial one with most funding power and granting mechanisms concentrated in Victoria and Ottawa.

For example, despite huge resource revenues being generated in or near communities throughout the province, these same communities have no mechanisms to access these revenues. Instead, it is mainly the provincial government that has control over resource royalties and stumpage.

Furthermore, the added value that is created from the workforce, public infrastructure and natural resources (e.g. forests, metals, minerals, oil & gas, hydroelectric) is often under the control of large multinational corporations.  These corporations extract huge added value, but often do not reinvest it in the communities and regions from which it is derived.  Instead, as is increasingly the case with Canfor and West Fraser, this added value is scooped up from BC communities and invested in mills in the southern US and elsewhere.

As communities across the province face major infrastructure funding issues, the above problems loom and require solutions.

Some communities and local levels of government are already raising their voices about these issues – which is positive.  But one thing is clear: we need to think even more about new mechanisms and new ways of doing things that give workers, residents, small and medium businesses, municipalities and regional districts more say and more control in this increasingly globalized world.

Peter Ewart is a writer and columnist based in Prince George, British Columbia.  He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca